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'Someone Who'll Watch Over Me' - review

PUBLISHED: 15:45 07 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:19 08 October 2015

David Haig (photo by Manuel Harlan)

David Haig (photo by Manuel Harlan)

Archant

Three men, one bare stage and a very wordy script, there is no doubt that Someone Who'll Watch Over Me presents a real challenge for even the most experienced of directors.

But with a fine trio playing the lead roles, Chichester Festival Theatre’s current production effectively transports us to a small, dank cell in Beirut where the hostages struggle against their captivity and the intensity of living together.

Inspired by the experiences of Brian Kennan and John McCarthy who were held captive by associates of Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 80s, Frank McGuinness began writing the play while John McCarthy was still kept hostage. But at a reading of the play in Galway, he promised the then free Brian Keenan that it would not be staged until McCarthy was also released. In July 1992, the year after McCarthy was freed, it took the theatre world by storm at Hampstead Theatre and, on seeing the play, Brian Keenan said, “Frank McGuiness, with his words and imaginative power, walked into a place where ‘angels fear to tread’ and came out dazzling.”

In Michael Attenborough’s fine production, a strong cast play US doctor Adam (Adam Rayner), Irish journalist Edward (Rory Keenan) and an English academic Michael (David Haig). Adam and Edward open the play, attached to a concrete floor by heavy chains at the ankle, and confined in a small, square set. We quickly get the idea that although the pressure often gets to them, they have grown accustomed to each often and share a certain fondness. The pace ranks up a notch with the arrival of David Haig as Michael. Every bone, muscle and breath in Haig’s body reveals his devastation, angst, fear and vulnerability at being taken captive. His life with his two resigned cell mates is not easy, though over time and through sharing a common fear, the three men reach some kind of friendship. I am in awe of Haig’s acting, having seen him wring madness out of George lll and war time tension in Pressure, his sense of hopelessness really touched me in this production.

I would have liked more of a sense of the solitude and despair of the men being confined to that awful cell with no idea of when or if they would be freed. The play opens with the song ‘Someone to Watch Over Me”, but to repeat the tune again seemed to make too light of a terrible situation. In moments of complete darkness I yearned for more solemn music, the dripping of water or the sounds of Lebanon to bring alive the location. At times, when the banter was flying, I felt they could have been mates at the squash club, or stuck in a lift, but perhaps the intention was to transport us elsewhere?

Naturally there is a lot of angst in the play, but there are lighter moments as the men reflect on their pasts. The power of our imagination and how it can lift us out of despair is illustrated with great hilarity as the three men re-enact the 1977 Wimbledon women’s final. Again Haig is at his most endearing, digging deep to add incredible sadness to what is superficially a very funny scene. But after hilarity comes reality and the men come crashing back down to earth and we, the audience, join them in their despair.

Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester until Saturday, October 10th. Box Office 01243 781312 or via www.cft.org.uk

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